Richard Elliott Friedman—author of Who Wrote the Bible?—has done it again. Already by the end of the brief introduction, I was hooked—he had me at “Did the Exodus happen, and does it matter?” Never mind that I have been discussing the same questions with my students in class for a couple of decades now and have written about it myself; I wanted to know what Friedman was going to say.
A gifted writer, Friedman speaks directly to the reader—at times literally. “Let me ask you a question,” he says right at the beginning. “What does your intuition say: that something happened in Egypt, or that nothing happened?” Anticipating the answer given by some, he adds, “And if your answer was, ‘Why should I care?’ then the objective of this book has to be to show you what probably happened and also to show you why it matters.” He then proceeds to do exactly that, presenting the material in a series of chapters as “a work of detective non-fiction,” as he calls it. I kept expecting Sam Spade and the Maltese Falcon to appear on the next page. They never did, but they could have.
The book is full of fascinating facts, intriguing hypotheses, and interesting conundrums. Some are common knowledge, including the problem of two million people leaving Egypt all at once. Others were new to me, including the fact that only eight Israelites in the Biblical account of the Exodus have Egyptian names, and all eight are Levites, including Moses himself, which is an intriguing observation.